The Humiliation of 'Sex with Optimism': Fieldnotes from Tinder

Cefai, Sarah. 2018. The Humiliation of 'Sex with Optimism': Fieldnotes from Tinder. Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry, 1(3), pp. 104-122. [Article]

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Abstract or Description

My writing here is experimental and proceeds by way of example, experience, and a weak reference to the “politics of location” (Rich 1986, 210). The dating platform Tinder, in its generation of new aesthetic categories that apparently break with “narrative knowledge and knowledge as narrative,” while purportedly speaking to / seeking out the pleasures and availabilities of sex, lends itself well to a study of the emergent formations of sex with, and without, optimism (Berlant and Edelman 2014, 3). Indeed, whatever our prejudices about the app (and Tinder is ripe for prejudice of all sorts, particularly in its barrage of aesthetic judgements), Tinder’s scenes are at the forefront of transformations in sexual relations. I want to admit, however, that I did not intentionally seek out an object through which to examine how ‘sex’ intensifies “that which is structurally nonsovereign,” or approach Tinder in the cold light of day as an object of research (Berlant and Edelman 2014, 5). Rather, my engagement with Tinder’s emergent textuality is co-incidental to my practice of writing: “notes from the field” just happened. Nonetheless, in having taken up feminist theory as a “movement for change [that] lives in feelings, actions, and words” many years ago, my practice of writing was a priori open to Tinder’s affective circuits (Rich 1986, 223). That is, my practice of writing, like my experience of Tinder, embodies “the constant pressure to adjust that is at the heart of being nonsovereign” (Berlant and Edelman 2014, 6). So, what I have written here occurs from within “structures of digital feeling” and exposes something of “the continuous lines that compose numerous intersecting durations of the experiential” (Seigworth 2015, n.p.). While it’s awfully grand to invoke Michel Foucault in this way, not to mention perplexing (what would he make of Tinder?), I think that not only in writing but in sex too, “one writes to become other than what one is,” and that this formulation of the nonsovereignty of sex and writing expresses an optimism for their forms (Foucault 1985, 104). However, Tinder takes the risks and fallout invited by this nonsovereignty to new proportions. If “[w]hatever circumscribes or mutilates our feelings makes it more difficult to act” (Rich 1986, 223), and if heteronormativity is just such a circumscriber in its “attempts to snuff out libidinal unruliness” (Berlant and Edelman 2014, 4), then my ruminations that follow here—on the theatre, circuits, status and stakes of “sex with optimism”—seek to provoke the “intersecting durations” of these proportions, among other things (Seigworth 2015, n.p.).

Item Type:



Tinder, Sex, Sexual relations, Writing

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


12 July 2018Accepted
October 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

25 Jan 2019 09:22

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:06


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